Obituary: Phani Majumdar

Phani Majumdar, film director: born Faridpur, East Bengal 1911; died Bombay 16 May 1994.

PHANI MAJUMDAR was a pioneer of Indian cinema, working in the late 1930s with PC Barua, India's equivalent of DW Griffith, in the famous New Theatres Studio of Calcutta. Here, between 1936 and 1939, new standards were set for Indian motion pictures in a series of reflective, lyrical films that brought cinema closer to life and literature.

Majumbar's contribution was Street Singer (1938), a melancholy love story, his debut and a classic of Indian cinema. Its male lead, Kundanlal Saigal, sang his immortal song 'Babul Mora' here, on a charged symbolic landscape of boats adrift in the mist. The Famine of 1943 and Partition of India were events of the future yet much of the symbolism of Bengal, the redolent Tagorean motifs of life-giving rivers, the feudal elite recreating the 19th century in desolate mansions - all the stuff that Satyajit Ray later spoke of as 'the past' - was in place with Street Singer. It was watched, not just as a love story par excellence, but as an expression of themes of Indian identity and nationalism which would be relevant for India,

and Majumdar, even beyond Independence.

Majumdar was born in Faridpur, in what is now Bangladesh, in 1911. From Calcutta he moved to Bombay in 1941, directing classic musicals which often promoted traditional ways of Indian life, with stars like Suraiya (in Tamanna, 1942), Shanta Apte in Mohabbat (1943), and the blind singer KC Dey.

Majumdar's Andolan (1951), Indian cinema's most elaborately constructed nationalist propaganda feature, was made to promote Nehru's Congress Party and was the closest that India ever came, on film, to defining a popular culture of nationalism: a small family in Bengal experiences in microcosm the major political events in the country, from 1885 (when the Congress Party was established) to Independence.

Majumdar returned to India from working in Singapore in the 1960s, and proceeded to make films in Punjabi, and even in obscure languages like Magadhi (Bhaiya, 1961) and Maithili (Kanyadaan, 1965). His interest in themes of an intrinsically Indian nature was a driving force to the end of his career. He worked on the television phenomenon of the 1980s in India, the 78-part religious epic The Ramayana, and was working on a television series Our India when he died. No doubt, had he lived, the Our India series, on a state television network struggling to hold its own in competition with satellite, would have been the fitting finale to a career which started with Street Singer.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect